WALK UP Review: Hong Sang-soo Expands His Multiverse

Kwon Haehyo, Park Miso and Lee Hyeyoung star in a monochromatic movie by Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo.

Lead Critic; Brooklyn, New York (@floatingartist)
WALK UP Review: Hong Sang-soo Expands His Multiverse

A little three-story white building in Seoul is the setting for Hong Sang-soo's new film, Walk Up (Tab in Korean, which means tower or monument).

Kwon Hae-hyo plays Byeungsu, a film director of some repute. Always playing supporting roles in Hong films, this is the first time I remember Kwon playing the main character. Like many of his previous films, Hong plays with multiple scenarios and possibilities involving same set of characters in the same place, all the while contemplating about steady companionship vs being alone, being productive, retirement, health and mortality.

Byeungsu is seen arriving in a European-made small car with his daughter, Jeongsu (Park Mi-so, Introduction). He is trying to get his shy, estranged daughter a job through an acquaintance, interior designer Ms. Kim (Lee Hye-young, In Front of Your Face), who is the owner of the said building.

She has a cafe on the first floor and rents out the second and third floors. The top floor has access to the roof. After introducing his daughter, Byeungsu leaves for an important meeting nearby, promising to come back soon.

Jeongsu and the cafe owner converse awkwardly over some wine while waiting for Byeungsu to return. A couple of wine bottles later, Jeongsu drunkenly puts herself forward, aggressively asking for a job. Then she goes out to get more drinks.

When Byeungsu comes back on foot, he, Ms. Kim and Sunhee (Song Seon-mi), one of Ms. Kim's tenants, a cook and a big fan of Byeungsu, start drinking. Byeungsu tells them that his new project that he was working on for the last two years just got rejected by the investors. They also talk about how Jeoungsu working for Ms. Kim didn't work out. And there is palpable attraction between Byeungsu and Sunhee as they keep drinking and exchanging mutual admiration.

When we come back to the scene again, it's them as a couple living in the tiny place and Ms. Kim as their landlord. The ceiling is leaking, and the toilet doesn't work well. And Byeungsu is having health problems.

Even though they seem happy together, and Sunhee cares for him, feeding him some fresh salad concoction, something is still off. And it bothers him that she is going to go see her old frenemy he doesn't approve. The place, once a charming space, becomes an unbearable, tiny trap. Byeungsu wonders to himself if being alone would be better.

Next time we see him, he is living with yet another woman (Cho Yun-hee), a very supportive, affectionate woman who brings meat to grill and soju, while also getting Korean medicinal roots preserved in honey. This is an ideal scenario for an aging man. Is this his imagination, a daydream or real?

With its elliptical ending, Walk Up concocts different alternatives for our director protagonist. There is a natural flow to the film that is harmonious and playful, yet never disruptive.

It's as if Hong was daydreaming about the possibilities of his future, dreaming about retiring in Jeju Island, possibly with someone who will support him and spoil him. It's funny that this simple, small white concrete building in the middle of a glass urban jungle serves as an oasis that inspired Hong to dream up Walk Up. It's a good addition to Hong's expanding multiverse.

Walk Up opens Friday, March 24 at Film at Lincoln Center in New York via Cinema Guild, with a national roll out to follow. Visit the Cinema Guild official site for dates and locations. 

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com

Walk Up

  • Hong Sang-soo
  • Hong Sang-soo
  • Yun-hee Cho
  • Lee Hye-yeong
  • Lee Hyeyoung
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Cinema GuildHong Sang-sooKwon HaehyoLee HyeyoungPark MisoSouth KoreaYun-hee ChoLee Hye-yeongDrama

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